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Victoria says homeless problem an increasing drain on budget

WATCH: A bylaw permitting temporary camping in city of Victoria parks is causing an influx of overnight campers and the problem is costing taxpayers nearly $750,000 a year. Kylie Stanton reports.

Five years after homeless people in Victoria gained the right to camp in parks overnight, the city says the negative repercussions are starting to add up.

“We spent $700,000 last year between parks, police and bylaw chasing people around with their tents. Not a good use of taxpayer money,” says Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.

In total, parks and bylaw officers had 1274 calls for service to deal with the issue in 2014, up from 616 in 2013.

According to city staff who wrote a report on the issue for council, there are seven parks in particular – Beacon Hill, Holland Point, Cridge, Arbutus, Topas, Kings and Haegert Park – where problems are particularly acute.

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“During the summers of 2013 and 2014, staff observed a change in the nature of sheltering activities in City parks,” the report reads.

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“Many individuals remained in a particular location for a continuous period of days or weeks, erecting their shelters in the evening and dismantling them again every morning. The continual daytime presence and repetitive overnight sheltering activities in the same location impacts the use and enjoyment of the park by other residents and visitors to the City. Large volumes of chattels and garbage typically accumulate in locations where repetitive sheltering activities were occurring.”

The city says much of the issue stems from shelters already over capacity. According to a 2013 city report, anywhere from 250 to 719 additional units are needed in the city.

“The majority are doing so because they are homeless, and many have mental health and/or substance abuse issues. For many of these people, successful permanent housing opportunities must include on-going support and services. In some cases, shelters are also not an option for individuals who have behavioural issues caused by addictions or mental illness,” the report reads.

The report outlines a number of possible options for city council to take, including additional resources for bylaw enforcement and park clean-up, or limiting the areas and duration of overnight camping.

But Andrew Wynn-Williams of the Coalition to End Homelessness says it would be a stop-gap solution.

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“We need more housing is what it boils down to. That’s the solution to homelessness. Shuttling people around or having different areas for them to camp is not an effective solution.”

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